County Ban on Electronic Cigarettes is first step to new tax

e-cigs-regulationIn modern America it has become commonplace for government regulation of an activity to serve as a precursor to taxation. Accordingly reports that Contra Costa county supervisors plan to “ban the use of battery-operated electronic cigarettes everywhere traditional tobacco smoking is already prohibited,” are a sure sign that new taxes are on the way.

To understand politics it’s said you should “follow the money.” Nanny-state bureaucrats always keep the bottom line in mind, growing their prerogative to control how citizens live. State and federal regulators n recent years have sought ways to regulate the growing e-cig industry. The current push to regulate (and ultimately tax) e-cigs is in direct response to their commercial success. Ever the vanguard of political correctness, Contra Costa County Supervisors are going with the flow – all in the name of “saving the children” — with hopes that e-cigs someday will provide a source of new tax revenue.

Tobacco-free electronic cigarettes – or “e-cigs” — have become increasingly popular for smokers trying to quit and those trying to escape public-use tobacco laws. E-cigs are about one-third cheaper and far healthier than tobacco cigarettes. User testimonials suggest that e-cigs succeed in helping smokers quit when other cessation methods fail (to the chagrin of pharmaceutical companies that seek to maintain the industry’s monopoly on the smoking cessation drug business).

E-cigs work by turning nicotine — a legal drug — and harmless chemicals (propylene glycol, glycerol, water and flavoring) into water vapor that is inhaled by the user.  The user benefits by using a tobacco-free nicotine delivery system with few health risks. And because the device produces harmless water vapor rather than secondhand smoke, it is better for everyone. There is no evidence that “second-hand” e-cig water vapor is harmful — after all, it’s just steam.

Because the FDA has not approved e-cigs as a smoking reduction or cessation device, e-cig companies market their products as “alternatives” to cigarettes. Ironically, this broad marketing approach appeals to non-smokers – including youth – the very groups federal regulators supposedly work most diligently to protect.

During the past five years, e-cig use – known as “vaping” – has grown in popularity. The Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association estimates current U.S. users (aka “vapers”) at 3.5 million, up from 50,000 in 2008. Rising cigarette prices – driven by endlessly increasing tobacco taxes – may be helping to fuel e-cig popularity.

So it naturally follows that government must find a way to regulate and tax the successful e-cig industry. Consider:

  • Unlike cigarettes, currently e-cigs are not federally-taxed, although some states are moving to impose their own taxes.
  • California State Senate Bill 648, currently pending before the Senate Judiciary and Health Committees, would ban the use of vapor products wherever smoking is banned, permit landlords to ban e-cigarette use in private homes and declares use of electronic cigarettes “a hazard to the health of the general public.”  The Senate Committee on Health has scheduled a hearing on this bill for April 17.  Passage of SB 648 or similar e-cig legislation would surely result in extension of state tobacco taxes on e-cigs.
  • The State of Utah estimates it would reap an additional $1.6 million a year if its proposed e-cigarette tax becomes law.
  • In 2010 the Federal Drug Administration failed in its attempt to regulate e-cigs as drug-delivery devices, but is now moving to regulate these tobacco-free devices as tobacco products.
  • Should the FDA’s efforts to regulate e-cigs as tobacco products succeed, extension of federal tobacco taxes to e-cigs would certainly follow.
  • In the 2010 FDA case, the court addressed the “second-hand harm” of e-cigs, as follows:  “Regarding harm to third parties and to the public interest, the district court observed that the FDA had cited no evidence to show that electronic cigarettes harmed anyone.”
  • Contra Costa County is not alone in seeking to ban public use of e-cigs.  The City of Concord has adopted a similar ban, as has Amtrak.  Last fall the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed a ban aboard airplanes because of “concerns” about health risks from the vapors.
  • E-cig industry representatives say pharmaceutical companies will lose millions if e-cigs gain popularity as a smoking cessation device, as evidenced by some pharmaceutical companies’ financial and political support of e-cig opponents.
  • Nicotine dependency has a genetic basis.  This finding has been the subject of much research into personalized smoking cessation therapies that continue long-term, to avoid relapse, and adjust medication dosage to individual patient metabolism.  E-cigs appear to economically meet needs unmet by conventional low-dose nicotine gum and patch therapies.
  • Long-term nicotine drug use poses far fewer health risks than long-term tobacco use.

County residents can rest easy knowing they’re safe from the ravages of “killer” water vapor (cue creepy sound track), all thanks to our heroic county sups. Yippy skippy.

But you can’t help but wonder:  Seriously, don’t county supervisors have anything better to do?

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Author: Wendy Lack

Wendy Lack worked in city government human resources management for over 25 years. Wendy blogs on Contra Costa Bee on local government. Her articles have been published at American Thinker, Fox and Hounds Daily, and other blogs focused on California politics and local government. Wendy has a B.S. in Public Affairs from the University of Southern California and an M.B.A. from Golden Gate University, San Francisco. She lives in Contra Costa County, California and can be contacted at

14 thoughts on “County Ban on Electronic Cigarettes is first step to new tax”

  1. Nick Gillespie at The Daily Beast nails the nanny-statists hellbent on banning harmless e-cigs, nicely summing up the puritanism of today’s anti-smoking activists:

    “…There’s no question that in a nanny state, all of us- even those of us who don’t smoke tobacco or puff on e-cigarettes- are all treated like children incapable of making our own choices.”

    Link to article here:

  2. The author of SB 648 has amended the bill to permit use of electronic cigs in residential dwellings and health facilities/clinics:

    How generous of the state to permit use of a legal device behind the closed doors of one’s own home!

    The lack of adverse second-hand effects makes electronic cig use benign . . . so much so that it’s okey-dokey in health facilities.

    With absurd and unnecessary bills like this, you’d think state legislators had nothing else to do.

  3. Senate Bill 648 — the proposed statewide ban on electronic cigs — passed out of committee this week (with DeSaulnier among the supporters, natch –

    It’s now on its way to the Judiciary Committee.

    See bill summary here, including itemized list of its provisions:

    It continues to baffle how this ban could be enforced — including within dwellings — given that it has nothing to do with tobacco smoking and emits no smoke or odor. But leave it to our Nanny-legislators — they’ll figure something out, since they never let pesky details such as facts get in their way.

  4. So glad and thankful that i left cali. My wife is an ex-smoker, doesnt smell bad, is healthier, has more energy, and will probably live longer because of these horrible fancy water vaporizers. Yeah, lets ban them…..or at least make sure california has another few million dollars to add into the vaults and teach these smokers a lesson for wanting to quit. And lets make sure our innocent virgin children are sheltered from these horrible evil water vaporizers. I see that big tobacco has fully zapped the brains of the weak minded, easy to control public. We are starting an e-cig business in texas so we can make some money and save some smokers from lung cancer and hopefully some other diseases……i know, terrible idea right? Lol……sheep.

  5. “The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create whatever the form of government, a real despotism. A just estimate of that love of power, and proneness to abuse it, which predominates in the human heart is sufficient to satisfy us of the truth of this position.”

    ~George Washington, Farewell Address, 1796

  6. It takes a village to raise children. If you want to inhale, do it in the privacy of your own home, not in public where you will influence children. We wouldn’t need a “nanny state” if we acted responsibly for the good of all versus for the greedy individual. I applaude the Board of Supervisors for taking this issue on.

    1. “There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.”

    2. This is all about being socially responsible. When people in a community fail to do what is good for the whole because they are greedy and self serving, then it should be a crime. Cracking down on crime is like trying to cure incurable cancer. Teach people to be socially responsible and crime will decrease. Civil freedoms are important, but not to the point, that it influences the good of the whole. Allowing these ridiculous e-cigarettes in public places where the message is that smoking is acceptable is a bad message to send to our community, especially our children. Socially responsible people should respect the fact that we should not model bad unhealthy behavior, and leave their e-cigarettes to the privacy of their own home. If all of us would be socially responsible, then we wouldn’t have to have the BOS make these silly laws.

  7. Limiting personal liberty has become routine in California, where government seeks to dominate and control every aspect of human activity, as illustrated by the bill introduced by California Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-San Rafael) that would make it illegal for people to smoke in their own homes:

    Tyrannical micromanagement by Big Brother may begin with universally-maligned tobacco smokers . . . but it surely doesn’t end with them.

  8. The County Supes are blowing smoke on this one. But I don’t think it is completely true that e-cigs have no health drawbacks. Nicotine, contained in tobacco cigarettes or delivered in an e-cig, is still a powerful and addictive drug. It also raises blood pressure.

    1. It was not my intent to imply that e-cigs have no health impacts on users. Of course nicotine is a drug, and an addictive one at that. Further, nicotine addiction has a genetic component, placing some individuals at higher risk for addiction than others.

      There is no dispute, however, that nicotine use alone — via gum, patch or e-cig — has fewer adverse health effects than feeding a nicotine addiction via smoking of tobacco products. And for many smokers, quitting without nicotine meds is close to impossible.

      Dr. Wendell Brunner’s statement to county sups about “secondhand health hazards” of e-cigs lacks any basis in fact. There are none.

      The primary rationale for this proposed ban against public use of e-cigs is to shelter children from observing confusing smoking behaviors in otherwise non-smoking areas. If laws were effective in controlling human behavior, we wouldn’t have widespread incidence of kids drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, pot, abusing legal and illegal drugs, huffing, etc.

      People kid themselves when they believe such a ban will stop kids from experimenting. Such bans may make grown-ups feel better about themselves, but will do nothing to change kids’ behavior. In fact, bans on public use heighten appeal by adding a taboo factor.

      The root causes of substance abuse are not affected by feel-good PC laws, such as this proposed ban.

    2. BGR, get real. So does a caffeniated coffee pot steaming away in your kitchen, or in a break room. If people are trying to quit, using E-Cigs, then why make it more difficult. To “Doing the Work”, a good parent would use this as a teachable moment. Aren’t there larger issues to conconcern ourselves with than making it more difficult for smokers to quit? If they are successful it’s better for everyone!

      CalPERS just approved approved 50% rate increases and CalSTRS is asking for a 100% plus increase in state/school district contribution rates.

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